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Notes on the aftermath of the mcdia and Grenada: another national Harris opinion survey offers polling evidence that Americans have not deserted the media on the right to cover news. It also shows that citizens back the media over the government on coverage of the Grenada invasion. By 65 to 32 percent, those polled said they believed that reporters should have been allowed to accompany U.S. troops invading Grenada.
At the time of the Reagan administration's ban on coverage of that invasion in October, this column dealt at length with the overwhelmingly negative view of American media performance in general and support for the government's position on the media in Grenada specifically as reflected in a massive stream of letters from around the country. Those letters continued to arrive for weeks. Since Harris' data now indicate that public attitudes are different than I reported, or that they have changed, I am happy to add his figures for the record on the subject.
Some of his other findings: by 53 to 36 percent, those polled think that the country was better off because Vietnam was fully and graphically covered. Eightythree percent agree that, in a free country, a basic freedom is the right to know about important events, especially where the lives of American soldiers are concerned. By 63 to 34 percent, they agree that by not allowing at least a small pool of reporters to report an invasion, a president or the military might be tempted to cover up mistakes and lives lost. And 52 percent disagree that the press and television pry too much into too many things as it is.
Harris concludes that those who raised questions about harsh anti-media sentiments in the country were wrong. Let us hope so, but on this subject I remain from Missouri. I have to be shown further that public attitudes about the media are still not strongly negative.
Reporters assigned to the A.E.F., like those assigned to the British and French forces, had a certain freedom of movement but a thin diet of news. What they did write was largely favorable to the Allies. But because of the censorship, neither they nor their allied colleagues reported one of the major events: the French Army mutiny in 1917.
By the time World War II came along, the British had learned a lot about the uses, and usefulness, of censorship. To a people fighting for their lives, as the British did following the defeat of the French and before the Americans entered the fray, censorship was an acceptable if not particularly attractive practice. With his feel for the (Continued on Page 61)
mass mind, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill understood, however, that if all the bad news was concealed through censorship, the British public would come doubt everything the Government said. So although a great deal continued to be censored - tonnage of ships sunk, the exact extent of airraid damage - a good deal more was written about than would be deemed prudent today by President Reagan. Although a gap existed be tween the media and military during World War II, there were reasonable men on both sides and the relationship be tween the two during the campaigns in the Mediterranean and northwest Europe are often cited as an example of harmonious cooperation.
As a correspondent in both theaters of war, I concur. But there were major differences between the situation then and today.
The first, and probably most important, was that total censorship prevailed. Everything written, photographed or broadcast was scrutinized by censors. Anything that did not meet the high command's considerations of security was deleted.
A second difference was that televsion did not exist as a news media during World War II. The "loss" of the Vietnam War is attributed by extremists in the American military to television's capacity to bring its horrors into Amer. ican living rooms. What, then, would have been the reaction of the Allied publics had the bombing of London, the slaughter at Anzio or the house-to-house and room-toroom fighting at Stalingrad been brought into their homes?
The third factor was the attitude of the correspondents themselves. There was resistance to censorship during World War II but situations in which a reporter tried to evade it with material that might endanger soldiers' lives or ships at sea were extremely rare.
Censorship was intended to apply only to military matters. Concern over a spate of unfavorable reports on the political situation in North Africa following the assassination of Adm. Jean François Darlan prompted Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied forces, to impose a political
censorship for a time. But a storm of protest from American and British politicians, as well as from the media, forced the high command to discontinue the practice.
The existence of military censorship did, however, enable commanders to talk with a freedom absent in later wars. World War II correspondents were permitted, if not encouraged, to interview officers dealing with operations, intelligence or military government. Corps, divisional and brigade commanders were accessible on the various fronts. General Elsenhower took the lead, providing full and detailed briefings before each major operation. Responsible reporters, he believed, helped sustain popular support for the war, and censorship took care of any inaccuracies that might creep into their stories.
Along the fronts in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy and northwest Europe, reporters had complete freedom of movement. If they risked their lives by moving too close to a fire fight or by flying on bombing missions over Berlin, that was their concern. In all, about 140 correspondents were killed on all fronts during World War II.
World War II was the last in which total censorship prevalled. The change in the media-military relationship began during the Korean War, when what censorship Occurred was largely imposed at the source by senior officers. The main source was Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur, Commander of United Nations Military Forces in South Korea, a master at putting across the military's view of operations, and at keeping his mouth shut about impending campaigns.
Censorship at the source reached its apogee in the Vietnam War. On the whole, reporters were free to go where they wished, but those who did not have the trust of senior officers, a trust laboriously built in past wars, were given little information. Many officers became increasingly convinced that the growing hostility to the war on the part of the American public was due to biased and inaccurate reporting by cor. respondents.
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